Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

Filtering by Category: Queens

Disc Hive goes to the Farm

The Disc Hive bees have been having big adventures this year.

Headed by Queen Honey, they surged into growth this spring, and I only just split them in time to stop a mid-April swarm. After that, I split the top colony again, by transferring Queen Honey and half the brood into a nucleus box, leaving the remainder to raise a new queen. But despite my interventions, they swarmed. I think I left too many queen cells in the lower colony, so they produced more than one new queen, and had enough flying bees for one of those queens to leave with a swarm.

Sadly, despite marching theatrically into a new hive as you can see in the Gallery video, that swarm has ended up being queenless. Perhaps the swarm queen and her swarm parted ways. Perhaps she didn't mate successfully. Perhaps she was injured during my inexpert swarm collecting. Whatever, the swarm are unhappily living out the rest of their days as laying workers.

Meanwhile, back in the Disc Hive, Queen Irene has ascended to the throne. I discovered her presence by surprise, when I was preparing to re-introduce Queen Honey to that hive after the Bee Inspector had reported it to be queenless. Queen Irene is the daughter of Queen Honey, and probably a younger sister or half-sister of the queen who left with the swarm. Although perhaps there's an outside chance she actually is the queen who left with the swarm, who somehow sneaked back home again!

Anyway, I do hope Queen Irene is a brave but gentle queen, because at this tender young age she has already gone on a big adventure. Yesterday, in the early morning, we took the Disc Hive to a new home in the Cambridgeshire countryside. A local farmer has welcomed the bees on to his land, where hopefully they will make themselves useful pollinating field beans. I'm not sure yet whether I worry more about them now they are there (are they ok? has the hive been knocked over by wildebeest? when can I visit?) or when they were here (are they causing a nuisance? is there a bee caught in my hair again?). But, at any rate, it's a big move - we now have apiary number two!

Uniting

Beekeeping here over the past few weeks has been complicated and labour-intensive. Taking hives apart, dividing colonies, lifting heavy boxes, climbing on chairs, opening and closing different sequences of doors like on a magician's box, poring over notebooks with a furrowed brow, re-assembling hives and then wondering whether things are the right way round. Beekeeper and bees alike are a little frayed.

But swarm numbers are significantly down on last year, despite having more beehives this spring than last, so we can say all this effort has been at least moderately successful on that front.

At present the apiary is full of "high rise" beehives that have an upstairs and a downstairs colony under one roof - the result of performing the vertical splits.

But as I don't want to double my number of colonies, and want each hive to have one queen and one queen only, I now have to unite the upstairs and downstairs bees back together again.

I use the newspaper method. A single sheet of newspaper is laid between the uppermost box of the downstairs colony and the lowermost box of the upstairs colony. The newspaper separates the two groups of bees so that they do not immediately meet, preventing a mass fight breaking out. Over time the bees chew through the newspaper and gradually meet each other. Previously the upstairs and downstairs colonies were separated by the Snelgrove board and its central mesh (now removed for the uniting), so these bees were not complete strangers to each other anyway, but the newspaper method apparently works even when they are.

On Thursday I laid a sheet of newspaper over the queen excluder on the Copper Hive brood box (which I hope still contains Queen Dawn, although I haven't seen her recently) and on top of that I put the upper brood box containing the bees and brood that I had previously split from Queen Dawn's colony. This upper colony had not managed to produce a new laying queen. I don't know why that is (no wicked witches were involved!), and it's rather a shame that they didn't because I'd hoped to raise a new queen from this hive, but having no second queen made it straightforward to re-unite them with the lower colony. Today, 3 days after adding the newspaper, I picked up the upper brood box and found the bees had already eaten the whole sheet. Only the periphery, protruding from the hive, remained uneaten:

So the bees of the Copper Hive are now one colony again. I rebuilt the hive, combining the frames of brood from the two brood boxes into one. What's to stop them swarming now? Nothing, if Queen Dawn is alive and well in the brood box. I will need to re-divide them, re-setting them to the position of a month ago with queen and flying bees in the bottom box and brood and house bees in the top box. And so this cycle will continue, rather exhaustingly, until the end of the swarm season.

Cedar Hive colonies re-uniting across the Cambridge News & Crier

Four Happy Hives

Today's statistics:

  • Beehives opened: 4
  • Brood frames inspected: 44
  • Gloves worn: 0
  • Stings received: 0
  • Surprises: 2

I've been in the habit of wearing those disposable thin latex gloves when I'm working in the beehives. They are easy to change between hives and they keep the propolis off your fingers. But the box ran out the other day without my having noticed we were getting low, so I'm gloveless now. It went fine today inspecting the hives without gloves. When you get bees all over your hands it does tickle! But it's also a little easier to feel when there's a bee in the way when picking something up or putting it down, so it could be an improvement.

Cedar Hive

These bees are a lovely colony. They smell like a summer meadow. And they do not seem inclined to swarm, so they are the sole single-storey hive left in the apiary.

In this hive came my first surprise - a pollen forager carrying blue pollen. Blue. A light, greeny blue. That's not a shade I could find on my pollen chart. Maybe I should've got the full pollen reference book instead of the handy little flip card version, like they tried to persuade me to at the book stall.

Disc Hive

A new queen should be emerging very soon in the bottom box of the Disc Hive. Meanwhile, all seems well in the top box. I think I did indeed get there in the nick of time when I split them last weekend, causing them to cancel their swarming plans at the last minute.

Copper Hive

This hive is so tall that I had to stand on a chair to access the top brood box! There are sealed queen cells, from which new queens should be ready to emerge next weekend. Meanwhile I hope Queen Dawn is building up a new brood nest in the bottom box. There's no easy way to have a look, but there's no particular reason to either, so I shall leave her to get on with it.

Pond Hive

The Pond Hive contained the second surprise. You remember that I thought this colony must have swarmed on Easter Sunday, because on Easter Monday I found it packed with sealed queen cells. Well, there hasn't been enough time for the hive to have a new laying queen already, and yet there were eggs and young larvae in the top brood box. The explanation? Queen Felicity! It seems she hadn't yet swarmed after all. She must have been on the point of departure when I split them, just like the Disc Hive.

So I think I can add to my statistics:

  • Swarms issued so far this year: 0

Thank you, my wonderful, agreeable bees!

 

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